Pet Grief: Suffering in Silence
A column for people who love their pets with the same depth they love their children.
I decided to write an article on pet grief as my darling Reuben, my beautiful 19 year old Chihuahua, passed over the Rainbow Bridge recently. I know this is a sensitive subject. There are a huge number of people who love their pets deeply and when their darling pet dies, their grief is immense and are prone to keepping it to themselves for fear of being patronised or ostracised for grieving a dog.
I adopted Rueben from the RSPCA 15 years ago when he was aged around 4 - 5. He was the sweetest dog I'd ever met. He was vibrant, full of fun and enormously affectionate.
Two years ago Rueben had a blood test that revealed that he had a serious kidney condition. I was told by the vet to enjoy each day with him as his condition was serious and with my previous experience as a grief counsellor, I thought I would be prepared. However, when the time came I went to pieces.
I was happy to be his 24/7 carer. It was utterly exhausting, especially the last six months as I had to wake up every few hours throughout the night. He needed help from me to manage his incontinence and arthritis. At night, we were so attuned that he would only have to gently claw at his bedding and I would instantly wake up. Then from his look I could tell if he wanted to be turned into a new sleeping position or wanted me to carry him out to toilet. I felt it was an honour to care of him. He gifted me with devotion and love and I felt this was my opportunity to return the courtesy.
For the last two years, every single day I tdreaded the day of the vet's home visit. Five weeks ago that day arrived. I knew I would not be capable of making the call to the vet for a home euthanasia so I had pre-arranged with a good friend to make that call on my behalf after she had received a text from me.
He was hardly eating and had stopped drinking water. My attempts to dispense water half hourly by means of an eye dropper into his mouth for the last week wasn't enough to keep him hydrated. He was losing weight fast.
That dreaded day, waiting for the vet, I was in an utter state of panic, shaking, crying hysterically. I didn't want Reuben to be aware of my distress but of course he would have known. We both had regular intake of Rescue Remedy and I even had a large helping of brandy in my tea whereas usually I rarely drink alcohol.
The dreaded deed was done.
After the vet left, I plummeted into sheer panic, despair, deep anxiety, major grief, guilt, doubt, fear, loneliness and utter misery. My body ached with physical pain as if I'd been hit by a truck and I felt a part of my heart die. I could actually feel a black space where part of my heart should be. I had several more very large brandies and finished off the bottle of Rescue Remedy.
My abilities were already badly depleted due to the chronic sleep deprivation. The physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pain was so great I wasn't sure I was strong enough to cope. I kept telling myself over and over that these are all symptoms of grief and I will get through it! Somehow I did.
I wanted to share my experience as I know that some people with such deep love for a dog will have experienced the same and may be suffering in silence.
It is said that pets carry the same spiritual energy as children. If a pet has lived their life as an important family member, the family are likely to experience exactly the same grief as if a child has died when the pet dies.
I have been told a number of times by pet owners that they love their pets as much as they love their children or partner; some say they love their pet more!
Don't be ashamed or feel guilty of your deep love for your darling pet. Be proud.
Velma Violet Harris is a dog behaviour consultant and trainer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and velmaspetsastherapy.com.au. Her qualifications include: Animal Science TAFE Cert. including: Dog Behaviour, Animal Genetics, Animal Care and Ownership, Dog Nutrition, Dog Housing and Grooming, Dog Breeding, Animal First Aid, Dog Health and Disease, Kennel Housekeeping. Plus National Council Of Psychotherapists, London: Diploma in Psychotherapy.